When I read the recent Rigpa International Newsletter, titled “Sangha Connection,” I sense a profound disconnect between the leadership of Rigpa and those who feel concern about the abuse that has occurred in Rigpa—both victim/survivors and everyone else who felt deeply impacted.
The very first paragraph of the March-April 2018 newsletter describes the Rigpa Bodhgaya Prayer Gathering as “wonderful” and “joy-filled,” with even more “delight” due to the presence of the Bhutanese sangha. Later, a sangha member is quoted as saying,
“I can feel the presence and blessings pervading the place. It is evident that almost everyone feels the same. There is so much joy and devotion expressed in our interactions with each other.”
While I would never begrudge anyone their joy, I’m struck by the complete lack of awareness these words evidence in relation to the Rigpa victims of abuse. But I also know, this is trademark Rigpa: insular, self-centered, and self-celebratory.
Remembering the Victims
All the while Rigpa celebrates itself, there are victim/survivors and other disenchanted former members who struggle in recovery. Clearly, the writers and all the Rigpa newsletter approvers (the Vision Board and the like) cannot imagine what it might feel like for an abuse survivor to read their words via Sangha “Connection.” It feels more like disconnection than connection.
If you’ve spent years in a high-demand organization, like Rigpa, where you suffered abuse – emotional, physical, and/or sexual – it can take years for you to recover. You may struggle with flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, dissociation or any of the numerous symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD, even if you don’t have the full blown disorder. You may grapple with guilt, shame, self-blame, feelings of worthlessness, anger, disbelief, an inability to trust, and/or a loss of faith, identity and/or community. When you least expect it, an external trigger may re-invoke memories and an assortment of trauma symptoms that bring your life, momentarily, to a full stop.
So many other former sangha members, who never experienced direct abuse themselves, wrestle with similar feelings. They wonder why they didn’t put two and two together sooner. They feel unable to practice at all. They feel they’ve lost their spiritual path. And so much more.
Sure some have healed, some have moved on. But many are still in recovery.
No One Chooses Trauma
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose.” Michelle Rosenthal
Trauma changes your brain and your biochemistry. No one chooses trauma. It happens to them, and it’s largely a biological event that can happen to anyone.
Trauma can be healed, but it takes time – especially the kind of trauma that occurs as a resulted of repeated abuse over a number of years—the kind of abuse that occurred to a number of students in Rigpa.
If You Really Cared
If you really cared about the students who were abused by Sogyal Rinpoche, you would know this. You would make an effort to become trauma informed. And once you were, if you really took the information in, out of respect for what they endured and knowing its long-term effects, you could never write a newsletter that begins as this one did.
While I might seem like a killjoy, I would prefer to open a Rigpa International Sangha Connection newsletter and read, as the first entry, an announcement of how Rigpa teams worldwide had attended an in-depth training to learn about trauma, its impacts, and how to provide trauma-informed care. That would give me hope that real change is taking place in Rigpa.
Riding It Out
Instead, the newsletter fails to mention the abuse at all. I had to read through 28 more paragraphs (or so) to get to any veiled mention of the abuse, a word that Rigpa never seems to actually use. In the final paragraph of the newsletter, I read:
“Updates related to acting on the recommendations of the Lewis Silkin report and Rigpa moving forward will be mainly shared on the Moving Forward section of rigpa.org rather than this newsletter.”
Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? How would you know the “Lewis Silkin” report relates to abuse, if you didn’t already know? There’s no mention it’s an “investigative” report. You could imagine it relates to anything. You might even skip the links after already reading 29 paragraphs, and never be the wiser.
Now I know why Rigpa calls this section of its website “Moving Forward.” They are truly moving on, leaving the victim/survivors behind, removing any substantial mention of the abuse from the sangha newsletter, relegating updates of this less palatable material to the website, where most sangha members rarely visit. Making it easy to forget that abuse has ever occurred.
This is the Rigpa modus operandi: Riding It Out.
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